“THE SAYING IS TRUSTWORTHY: IF ANYONE ASPIRES TO THE OFFICE OF OVERSEER, HE DESIRES A NOBLE TASK.” (1 TIMOTHY 3:1 NKJV)
Trustworthy. What does this mean? The original reads “Πιστὸς ὁ λόγος,” the WORD is faithful. That gets at the heart of it. St. Paul wrote this instruction to young pastor St. Timothy, both of whom the Spirit had put into the office of the Holy Ministry. He is writing Scripture by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. His word is the WORD, to be believed, that is, to be trusted.
Is St. Paul trustworthy due to his pedigree and his significance to the church? Is St. Timothy, the young-blood, twenty-something, hip and relevant pastor to be trusted based on his street cred? In either and any case, no. The WORD is trustworthy, to be believed. St. Paul, St. Timothy, or St. Christopher (your pastor) are not to be trusted by their virtue, nobility, accessibility, character, or anything in themselves. They can and must only be believed as they speak according to the trustworthy WORD.
This truth is vital for our life together as a congregation. I have come from outside your community. I’m not like you. I don’t have your history. Why should you trust me? You don’t know me from Adam. Why should you believe me? I’m younger (or older), less mature (or more mature), and am hip (or not “with it” at all). Just trust me? Right. How about my partial German heritage, lifelong LCMS pedigree, or even that one of my forefather’s picture hangs on the wall in the Friendship room? Nope, that is not enough. Or trust me because of my Masters of Divinity diploma on the wall and my certification and Ordination into the Office of Holy Ministry? Still, prove it, pastor!
Trust is built. Trust is earned. Jesus spent three years testifying to the people, preaching and teaching in their synagogues, and doing signs and wonders upon the sick and needy. Their trust, their belief, in Jesus is grounded in His WORD and the confirmation of that WORD in His dying for them and you by crucifixion on Calvary.
Earlier in the letter to Timothy, Paul writes, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Tim 1:15). What WORD is trustworthy? The faithful saying is this: Jesus came into the world to save you, sinners. That’s the center and summary of the entire witness of the Bible, from Genesis to the Apocalypse of John.
You can only trust man’s WORD when he faithfully speaks this WORD of Jesus. Apart from the faithful/trustworthy WORD, there can be no trust in the man sent to you. The saying is honest, not the man. I am called by God to preach the true WORD, to watch out for your faith and life, to care for the needs of the saints, and to give an account for you on the last day.
St. Paul is right that this is a noble task, a “καλοῦ ἔργου,” that is, a good work. The work God has given me is good for you, Christ’s work of salvation for you through His instrument, the pastor. As the Holy Spirit makes good use of me for you, trust Him and not me. Your faith is not in men, man’s word, but in God the Holy Trinity as He has made Himself known in the trustworthy WORD.
And again, trust is built, and trust is earned. The trustworthy WORD is preached falsely when the man himself does not trust that WORD. We call that hypocrisy—to live contrary or against one’s own belief. All Christians are charged to be on guard for hypocrisy in their life. All Christians live a life of repentance, turning away from their sin and selfishness and back towards God in faith and toward their neighbor in love. The only cure for hypocrisy is the righteousness of Jesus given in the forgiveness of sins. I hope that you would cover my sins in the same blood-bought forgiveness that covers yours.
The Scriptures also teach that the overseer, “ἐπισκοπή,” is held to account for this same hypocrisy now in this life. Their life as they serve in the public ministry is part of the testimony of the WORD that they speak from their mouth. St. Paul continues in 1 Timothy:
“THEREFORE AN OVERSEER MUST BE ABOVE REPROACH, THE HUSBAND OF ONE WIFE, SOBER-MINDED, SELF-CONTROLLED, RESPECTABLE, HOSPITABLE, ABLE TO TEACH, NOT A DRUNKARD, NOT VIOLENT BUT GENTLE, NOT QUARRELSOME, NOT A LOVER OF MONEY. HE MUST MANAGE HIS OWN HOUSEHOLD WELL, WITH ALL DIGNITY KEEPING HIS CHILDREN SUBMISSIVE, FOR IF SOMEONE DOES NOT KNOW HOW TO MANAGE HIS OWN HOUSEHOLD, HOW WILL HE CARE FOR GOD’S CHURCH? HE MUST NOT BE A RECENT CONVERT, OR HE MAY BECOME PUFFED UP WITH CONCEIT AND FALL INTO THE CONDEMNATION OF THE DEVIL. MOREOVER, HE MUST BE WELL THOUGHT OF BY OUTSIDERS, SO THAT HE MAY NOT FALL INTO DISGRACE, INTO A SNARE OF THE DEVIL” (1 TIMOTHY 3:2-7)
You can see how trust is earned, and trust is gained. The WORD of Jesus is trustworthy, faithful, and true. The man who speaks? As long as he speaks the WORD as it has been handed over, he, too, is trustworthy. And as long as his life is lived in accord with that WORD, especially confessing his sins and being forgiven, his trustworthiness is not compromised. And none of this is his doing… not with his with the preaching and teaching, nor with his outward life. The only means and power to accomplish any trust—in either the WORD proclaimed or the life lived—is the Holy Spirit working through the self-same WORD.
Trust is earned. Trust is built. This trust is accomplished only as the trustworthy WORD is proclaimed… “and we as children of God lead holy lives according to it. Grant this dear Father in heaven!” The Spirit working by the WORD keeps the pastor in the same WORD!
And not only that, the same Spirit will work trust in you for God through the suffering and death of His Son Jesus. And the Spirit will work confidence, too, for your pastor and one another as He calls all to live in the forgiveness of Christ, given through His body and the shedding of His blood. Our faith/trust is solely in Christ Jesus and having this common trust, we then trust one another.
Therefore, where trust in God has faltered, return to the WORD of God. Where faith needs to be restored for one another, declare the WORD of forgiveness to one another. Don’t trust me, at least not by any pedigree, qualifications, reason, virtue, or character of my own. Trust the WORD that is trustworthy, namely the excellent work of Christ’s suffering and death for you and the sins of the whole world.
+ Pastor Christopher Gillespie